Yokuts Pottery Research

This study focuses on the southern Central Valley ceramic tradition, which is isolated from the far southwestern tradition and existed only in a restricted area occupied by the Yokuts and Western Mono people of the western Sierra Nevada foothills. Minimal research has been done on this ceramic tradition; Anna Gayton’s work with collections and in the field in the 1920s stands as the most thorough coverage of the subject to date. In 1990, William Wallace summarized Gayton’s work in a paper prepared for a conference.

Yokuts pottery is coiled, but the coils are scraped or wiped rather than joined using a paddle and anvil. The vessel is formed in a basket base, and most pots are flat on the bottom. Some have small tabular handles near the rims. Many have been treated on the exterior, whether used for cooking or other purposes.

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SIM #082-190-183 (photograph by Michael Sampson)

We were able to conduct analysis in person for one collection of Yokuts pottery vessels. In 2016, Christopher Corey, Senior State Archaeologist for California State Parks, brought to our attention that the State Indian Museum (SIM), located in Sacramento, housed a collection of Yokuts pottery. Over a period of two days in April, 2018, we conducted detailed analysis of 16 vessels. The work was coordinated by Nancy Jenner, Curator, SIM, and we were supported by her staff members Pepper Youngs, Nikola Sanguinetti, Edgar Huerta, and Ursula Filice. Their assistance was crucial, and consisted of retrieving and unpacking the pots, assisting with measurements and descriptions, and facilitating photography.

The Yokuts pots at the SIM had limited information about provenience, and no information about the collector(s). Therefore it is not known when they were collected, but the first quarter of the 20th century is a reasonable guess. They were most probably donated by private individuals to the state following discovery.

We also studied other collections of Yokuts vessels housed at the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, the Field Museum, and Sequoia National Park through information in museum catalogs and photographs. In total, our research included 69 complete Yokuts vessels. Since there is no typology for Yokuts pottery, we developed one based on function and form of the vessel.

A report is in preparation describing in detail the 16 vessels at the SIM as well as our observations about the other pots in museum collections. We believe that this report will be a significant contribution to the understanding of Great Basin and California pottery.

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